This post is part of a series walking through the first volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace.
If Abraham was really fully involved in the life of the nations around him, as Kuyper has argued, then how do we explain all the places where Israel is told to stay away from the surrounding nations? This is the solid-meat mystery of Hebrews: the connection between particular grace and common grace.
Kuyper highlights three things here:
First, Abraham was called and separated. Yet, this was a temporary and relative separation that brings salvation, but does not development.
“It [the separation from the world] is temporary in nature, not enduring and permanent… It creates the dispensation of the shadows, not the dispensation of the substance. Also, it is aimed at focusing the life of faith, not at developing the power God created within our human nature.” (404)
What Kuyper means here is that the separation given to Abraham is a separation that is only temporary, with a specific purpose. Once that purpose is fulfilled the separation comes to an end. Kuyper connects this point to the distinction between Abraham and Moses (especially as drawn by New Testament writers), with the law emphasizing the separation but the promises to Abraham representing the salvation that re-unites us to God and to each other.
Second, we should remember that the separation hammered home by Moses happened four centuries after the much-less-separated Abraham. We cannot forget the devolution from the somewhat God-worshipping Canaanites of Abraham’s time into the sentenced idolaters of Joshua’s time. Kuyper wants the people of his time to remember that four centuries prior the Dutch too were idolaters…Third, Genesis 15:13 (“Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years”) shows us that separation between Israel and Canaan actually began in Egypt, not in Canaan. Even in Abraham’s time there seems to have been a caste system of some sort already set up in Egypt (cf. Genesis 43:32).
Kuyper argues that these three considerations show us that Abraham’s call was a ‘spiritual’ one, since we see his other social and cultural bonds being strengthened in Canaan. Israel’s separation comes later and is only temporary. We should not over-focus on this later separation as definitive of Israel’s life, but instead we should join Paul in looking past Moses to Abraham as our model. This puts the law in its proper context as a tree trunk is in its proper place between root and fruit–the trunk is separate, but not defined by that separation.